India is the largest importer of defence equipment in the world. Currently, India imports close to 70% of its weapons requirements largely from Russia, Israel, and more recently, the United States. The country’s defence expenditure will be around $112 billion by 2016. In July 2010, India signed a contract for six new submarines with Russia for $11 billion. It was the highest such contract in the south-Asia till now. Over the next one and a half year, India is going to buy 250-300 advanced fighter jets at a cost of $35 billion. India is building a $2.2 billion dedicated highly secure and state of the art optical fibre network for Indian Armed Forces. This will be one of the largest, closed user group networks for exclusive use for the million plus personnel of the Indian Armed Forces. Just on 9th of Jan 2011, some news came that India is in talks for defence contracts worth $8 billion with different foreign agencies. In the year 2009, India spent $36.3 billion as defence expenditure which was 2.6% of India’s GDP for FY 2008. In the same context, India’s neighbour and one of the enemies, Pakistan had spent $4.8 billion in 2009 as defence expenditure. Also, the share of this defence expenditure for Pakistan of its GDP was 2.6%. We know it very well that Pakistan is always blamed for over-spending for the defence purpose, plus it is facing clashes in its western border with Taliban. So, the natural question arises, is India spending too much on its defence, neglecting other sectors say education or infrastructure?
Apart from above data and facts, an interesting point is that Indian defence expense is calculated excluding several items, like the cost of ministry of defence, expenditure on military pensions which by itself amounts to 15% of the total defence outlay. Several other items like Jammu And Kashmir Light infantry (JAKLI) and the coast guards are also excluded. If we add all these missing items, India’s defence expenditure will be close to 3% of the GDP. If we compare India’s spending on education it is 4.1% of the GDP which stood at 81st rank in comparison with other nations. US are at 37th position with 5.7% and UK is at 46th with 5.3%. If we compare the global average it is 4.4%. Also, India is saying regularly for many years that India will increase its educational expenditure close to 6%. Not to mention, India had increased its defence budget close to 34% in 2010.
Now, if we see the same data presented above in a different way, the scene will be something else. Even though India is just spending 4.1% of its GDP on education, the average for central, east and south Asia is 2.8% only. India is sharing its border with two nuclear armed nations with whom it has territorial disputes and has gone to war over these issues in the past. India has nuclear deterrence but that does not mean neglecting its conventional forces. Also, one of our neighbours is undergoing its worse period of destabilisation and its nuclear asset falling in the hands of extremists cannot be ruled out. India has to prepare for such an eventuality and keep its options open.
As India is importing 70% of its weapon requirements, it has to pay close to 50% to 100% higher than usual price. In 2007, the Indian Air Force (IAF) signed a deal with Russia for a fast-track purchase of 40 Sukhois-30s for $1.6 billion. This amounted to $40 million per Su-30 fighter aircraft. However, a latest deal for an additional 40 Su-30 aircraft and two extra as replacements has been finalised for $4.3 billion. That amounts to roughly $102 million per SU-30 aircraft. Since the latest deal for 42 Sukhoi-30 aircraft is to be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) in India under licence from the Russian firm Irkutsk, it should be costing less. In fact, the increase in the price for Su-30 is close to 150 per cent with no additional enhanced features. The aircraft being manufactured by HAL does not have features such as the AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar. In comparison, the fifth generation American F-35 fighter planes have advanced features like AESA and cost roughly $100 million apiece. So, even though India is spending more than normal it is getting less.
After Bofors scandal in late 80s, there have been very few defence deals in India. More than 70% of inventories of Indian Armed Forces are 20-plus years of age, and needs to be replaced as well as augmented with the sophistication of modern technology. A major portion of India’s current defence budget is devoted to the ambitious modernization program of the country’s armed forces. Between 2007 and 2012, India is expected to spend about US$50 billion on the procurement of new weapons.
As India and China grow at a tremendous rate, sooner or later they will come into geopolitical conflict over resources to fuel their economies and the aspiration of more than 2 billion citizens of these countries. Therefore force projection will be an important factor in the coming future to ensure the uninterrupted supply of essential minerals, oil and gas, which both countries require in huge quantities.
Also, India is facing internal insurgencies in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam and several north eastern states. Plus blast and terrorist attacks, like 26/11 at several places needs to be keeping in check. And, who could forget the latest popular problem for India, Maoists? They are active in more than six states in India and have claimed lives of more than hundreds of Para-military personnel. There is a need for better hardware for the soldiers fighting this menace and all the hardware costs money.
It is true that India needs to develop itself as producer for these weaponries. This will certainly cost less. But, it will take both time and money to be in such a position. Currently, India has to make itself secure from contemporary threats. In spite of dangerous neighbours, India is still spending less than global average which is 2.7%. To be in a safe position, experts advocate that India needs to spend 3-3.5% of its GDP on its defence. The national security is vital for any nation. Currently, India is nowhere around China in terms of military power. But, it has to be in the position so that China never tries to trespass Indian territories again in the future. If we think at all the facts at the same time, keeping in mind that India has spent less in the past due to fewer pacts after Bofors, certainly India is not spending too much on its defence.